Onya Swannie for standing up to the poor little richies
You do not raise the prospects of a ‘class war’ by talking about inequality. You raise the prospects of class war by not talking about inequality.
Nations that dare to examine their flaws and blunt the sharp edges of extreme power and wealth are more stable than those that do not.
So it is with this in mind that I congratulate Treasurer Wayne Swan for actually discussing the problem of growing inequality and identifying the abuse of wealth and the power it brings.
Whether it is mining billionaires campaigning against reasonable taxes and calling for cheap temporary migrant labour, or CEOs pocketing obscene multimillion dollar deals while campaigning for workplace “flexibility”, there can be no doubt that some very rich people are trying to use their power to get richer at our expense.
We know that business does not have to be like this. CFMEU members work in the private sector; in mining, construction and manufacturing. We understand that in order to maintain good wages and conditions, companies need to be profitable and productive. They need to grow and they need to make money. That way they - and their workers - can pay the taxes to provide infrastructure and services for the country.
Make the pie bigger so everyone can have a bigger slice - it’s a sound principle and one we have no beef with. But not everyone is playing that way at the moment.
There are those in the business elite who are pushing a deregulatory, low-tax agenda that would be more at home at US Tea Party meeting than the mainstream Australian agenda. Just about every day you can read of their calls to curtail ‘union power’, to reduce taxation, to demolish the Fair Work Act, to increase management prerogative or to raise the number of temporary foreign workers being brought in.
After reading these apocryphal warnings, you can usually flip over to the business pages and read about their record profits. That’s when you’re not reading about shareholder anger at their remuneration packages, record pay deals, share options or golden handshakes.
Double standards you might ask? But you see these people are powerful. They are rich. And they do, indeed, want more.
It really is just like the Springsteen line about that Wayne Swan quoted: “Poor man want to be rich / rich man want to be king / and a king ain’t satisfied till he rules everything.”
Of course, this is nothing new. What is new, at least in this country, is the shrill cheer squad in the financial press and their sensitivity against anyone who puts forward a fairer alternate view about how the cake should be divvied up.
This situation is a great shame. Because if we talk about it, it is possible to do something reasonable about it. We can have debates in the media and in parliaments. We can propose mechanisms to ensure at least some base level of equity. We can ensure that taxpayers, consumers, workers and shareholders don’t get ripped off by greed.
The only way we risk a “class war” is by not talking about it. It is when the rich and powerful are allowed to continually consolidate and grow their wealth at the expense of the broader society that people start to look beyond civilised public discourse for solutions.
Historical examples abound. The French, American and Russian revolutions - more recently the Arab Spring.
This is not to suggest that Australia is at risk of civil unrest. It is merely to point out the ridiculousness of having a go at the Treasurer for speaking up on the issue.
Our great Australian institutions - Parliament, our tax system, our legal system, our migration and trade laws, our industrial relations system and our trade union movement - all serve to moderate the greed of those who would abuse their wealth and power. We need to talk about how to help them do their job.
It is great to see a Labor Treasurer stand up and fight against inequality and in so doing help reduce the risk of any real class war in the future.
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